Riding the Waves of the Continuum of Coping!

Last updated: January 2022

Receiving a rheumatoid arthritis/disease diagnosis tosses you into an ocean full of questions, doubts, fears, and my favorite: coping! Coping with RA/RD mirrors the stages of grief identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

The stages of grief in coping with RA

Initial coping through denial

Denial is present for many in early diagnosis. We simply don’t want to believe we have a life-changing disease. Some of us are relieved to finally know what is wrong. We struggle to take in all the new knowledge, especially if we have brain fog.

So, we pick and choose what we will accept and forge ahead. I remember thinking, “Okay, let’s treat this, get better and move on.” The important thing to remember is that we all shift through these phases back and forth throughout our battle with RA. It is NOT a linear progression. The waves at first are large and we hold on tightly to our float.

Anger as part of grief and coping

Coping is now a daily, sometimes minute-by-minute, way of life. We realize the permanence of the disease. Then the anger rears its ugly head!! Having to adapt and cope all the time begins to wear on the soul. Tired of having to cancel plans, we choose not to make any. We get depressed because we are lonely. Then we get angry again and decide we will make plans and RA is NOT going to defeat us! We get tired of holding onto the float. Now the waves come at inconvenient times and knock us down. We get back up and try again.

After time, we learn to adapt and accept

Patterns begin to emerge. Sometimes, we are able to predict and prevent. We spend more time on top of the waves instead of underneath. And yet, we still cope constantly. Adaptation is the way of life. We still get upset when we have to adapt yet again. We still get sad when we have to cancel plans. There is a grudging amount of acceptance of this life. We replace our float and ride the waves again.

Necessary coping skills to keep going

  • Open communication with your rheumatologist, your family and your friends. Be sure to let your MD know what your symptoms prevent you from doing. This gives the MD clear ideas of how much you are in pain.
  • Counseling and/or medication. Chronic pain consumes your “happy” neurotransmitters, so you may need medication to help you cope. Having someone to talk with to process your emotions is invaluable.
  • A support group or network. RheumatoidArthritis.net is a safe place to vent, listen to advice, and get support from others who understand.
  • Realizing that coping is a continuum throughout our lives. It will change and grow and step back and move forward.

Are you ready to ride the waves?

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